by Allison Hershey (KM6RMN)
Antenna specialist for the Santa Cruz area Ares group, Neil Stoddard (KN6JOI), had successfully held a series of workshops for members since January 2021. Designed to teach less experienced members antenna fundamentals, these workshops had started simply and gradually introduced more complex concepts with each venture. Neil and his students were extremely happy with the recent results of the Dual Band 2m/70 cm Vertical Ground Plane Antenna project. But some of the experienced ARES members wanted a design with more challenge.
Neil consulted with his old colleagues at MIBtronics, who also happened to be part of the Santa Cruz area ARES gang. After hours of Zoom meetings, Stephen Betita (KM6NEP) said: “Didn’t one of our members want to see a real isotropic antenna?” Neil thought that would be a swell project, and Bob Fike (KO6XX), Dan Selling (N6RJX), and John Gerhardt (N6QX) were on board as well. It seemed like an impossible task, but Neil thought it was feasible with proprietary equipment developed at MIBtronics, a cutting-edge bio-acoustic technology lab known for its banana slug earbuds and (mumble-mumble) deep state listening devices. Nestled deep in the outskirts of Santa Cruz, it had underground tunnel access to UC Santa Cruz research facilities. As long as Dan and Bob’s access passes worked, there was enough equipment and classified research material to achieve their goals.
But would the students find the project appealing? Neil reminded them this antenna would reach anywhere in the world. And it would never need to be tuned. Elements would not need to be trimmed, and he was pretty sure they could eliminate matching capacitors or inductors. The best thing: unlimited wattage and a 1:1 SWR. Sweet!
But what about a suitable transceiver? Dan said he could build one using off the shelf .00001 tolerance electronic components from the deep state department supply room. Stephen volunteered to develop a gear-driven isotropic loader. “It will lend a steam-punk mood to the project,” he commented.
It was deemed important to make a working prototype before springing it on their students. Bob said, “We didn’t want them to get frustrated working out the bugs on their first advanced project.”
They searched for a safe site to build on, and eventually found a hidden fenced-in redwood grove behind MIBtronics. It was only accessible through the lab/campus underground tunnel, an important factor in keeping accidents under wraps. “Covid-19 really worked in our favor,” said Dan. “90% of our employees are working at home, so the lab is pretty empty and it’s easy to access the tunnels without detection.”
They got to work. There were some setbacks. John tried using bamboo as structural support, since it was cheap and environmentally friendly. But it was also prone to cracking and splintering. The alternative, PVC pipe, was sturdy and inexpensive, but Stephen objected to its environmental impact. Eventually they developed a sturdy, flexible material out of dried seaweed, shredded term papers, and epoxy.
The feed line took several tries. Stephen first used the ironwood fiber stretch-woven coax cable that had worked well in his variable bungee antenna project (see April 2019 On The Air magazine.) But it was just not suitable. Not only did SWR vary unpredictably after gears were applied, the materials were hideously expensive, way beyond the means of their potential students. Stephen settled for a more traditional 75 Ohm cable, and soon had a gear-driven feed line ready.
Neil and Bob had the hardest task: the antenna itself. Gold pressed latinum wire was the material of choice, but despite its splendid radiation power, its liquid metal center was prone to damage and uneven propagation. Bob thought he could address lobe deformities by using strut supports to hold its custom shape, and attached circular copper wire arrays [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] tapped [xxxxxxxxxxxxxx] null points [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx]. However, thread-thin platinum wires were too fragile to hold up under normal handling. The free-floating copper arrays did not work as predicted, so that idea was discarded. Neil came up with a work-around. A nearby surf shop had discarded some damaged EPS surfboard blanks. Shaped, sanded, and embedded with copper and platinum wire networks, [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx] and then [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] But [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxxx xxxxx xxxxxxx xxxxxxxxxxxx] at the feed point. The key importance of this approach was [xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] which facilitated multiband, global, high gain operation without the need for an expensive fringe area localizer. Once the fiberglass had dried and cured, this elongated bilateral array emitted near perfect signal. It was as if surfboards were designed with this in mind.**
**(Legal note: Portions redacted under the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. These methodologies are proprietary to MIBtronics –author)
There was one major setback: after five minutes under load, the first ever ‘surf’s-up’ antenna burst into flames. Neil constructed a second one, this time pre-treating the EPS blank with flame retardant and an intumescent coating.
Once Neil and Bob assembled the antenna elements, the team mounted it on a 25-foot mast for maximum output. Numerous guy wires were strung among the redwood trees to keep it steady. Dan was confident it would hold up under moderate winds. “But next storm, a branch is gonna come down, and this antenna is toast,” quipped Stephen. Almost on cue, a gentle rain started falling.
One final challenge: Despite their efforts, they could not achieve the coveted 1:1 SWR they were looking for. They were awfully close. John and Neil argued theory for a while, then shrugged and fetched a flux capacitor from the deep state department. Used as a trap between the coax and antenna, this would shunt the SWR mismatch forward to 2051 and postpone excuses until people lost interest.
That did the trick. In fact, with Dan’s transceiver, the isotropic antenna worked so well they were able to get 150 watts out of the 50-watt transmitter. Neil said, “we knew we could do it. It just had to be on a rainy day.” The gang celebrated by rushing to their individual (dry, cozy) homes and holding a Zoom party.
Sadly, the subsequent class two weeks later was not a success. They had 6 students in the MIBtronics parking lot on a drizzly Sunday afternoon. A management supervisor unexpectedly parked nearby to pick up a forgotten document. She spotted someone hammering guy wire pegs into the asphalt near the back entrance. They were busted. Ultimately, MIBtronics officials confiscated everything. The prototype had been developed by current and former employees, using company materials on corporate property. There was no question it fell under the work-for-hire clauses in their contracts, and therefore belonged to MIBtronics. Some of the new methodology was redacted under their non-disclosure agreements (see above) and separate non-disclosure agreements were signed by all the students in exchange for dropping trespass charges and getting free MIBtronics headphones.
The students were disappointed. “We were this close to getting the satisfaction of making something really awesome,” said one anonymous San Lorenzo Valley ARES member. “Now we’ll be looking over our shoulder every time we pull out a soldering gun. Great headphones, though.”
Happy April 1st, everyone, and 73.